HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – After trailing his nine rivals during the early stages of Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 XpressBet.com Fountain of Youth, Peacock Racing Stable’s Gunnevera unleashed a furious run on the turn into the Gulfstream Park homestretch and drew away to a commanding five-length victory.
The only one who may have covered the Gulfstream stretch with as much enthusiasm was his trainer, Antonio Sano, who sprinted along the racing surface toward the first turn following the running of the 1 1/16-mile race to great his impressive winner and accompany him to the winner’s circle.
Gunnevera, the 4-1 third betting choice who is stabled at Gulfstream Park West, provided Sano his most significant victory in the United States since emigrating from Venezuela.
“I’m very emotional,” said Sano, who has won several training titles in South Florida in recent years.
The Fountain of Youth, a 1 1/16-mile prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park April 1 and the Triple Crown, highlighted Saturday’s 13-race program that offered nine stakes, included eight graded stakes. The program produced a record Fountain of Youth total handle of $26.6 million.
Gunnevera broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park in his third career start July 16 and went on to establish himself as one of the most accomplished 2-year-olds of 2016, capturing the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in August and completing his juvenile season with an easy victory in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot in November.
Gunnevera, who finished second behind Irish War Cry in the Grade 2, $350,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream in his 3-year-old debut on February 4 after encountering a bumping incident on the turn into the homestretch, trailed the field into the first turn Saturday as Gulfstream-based Three Rules set the pace around the first turn and onto the backstretch. Pressed by Irish War Cry, the even-money favorite ridden by Joel Rosario, Three Rules and jockey Luis Saez set fractions of 23.43 and 47.16 for the first half mile. Javier Castellano bided his time aboard the stretch-running Gunnevera, saving ground along the backstretch. Three Rules and Irish War Cry continued to show the way after leaving the backstretch as Practical Joke, the 3-1 second choice, made an eye-catching move along the inside, followed by a surging Gunnevera on the outside.
Practical Joke, a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner trained by Chad Brown, pulled alongside Three Rules leaving the turn into the stretch under jockey Jose Ortiz as Irish War Cry began to weaken and Gunnevera loomed boldly on the outside.
“I was feeling pretty good on the turn there,” said Brown, whose trainee was making his first start since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on November 5. “I thought the horse ran a great race, considering the layoff. Gunnevera was much the best today – hats off to them. That horse was really impressive.”
Practical Joke continued fighting in the stretch to finish a half-length clear of Three Rules. Talk Logistics, Lookin for Eight, Quinientos, Irish War Cry, Takaful, Made You Look, and Huracan Americo rounded out the order.
Gunnevera drew off impressively to complete the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.25.
“I took my time with him,” said Castellano. “He’s a very professional horse. He’s a 3-year-old horse, but he acts like a 6-year-old. He’s an old pro. The way he was in the post parade, he was very composed and he waited in the gate. He broke from the gate, and I could have been a little closer to the pace and chased a little bit to secure my spot in the first turn, but I didn’t. I took my time with him. I let him follow the pace, and he started picking it up, little by little. Turning for home, I knew I had it. I knew because of the way he did it when I asked him, he responded very well.
“I was very lucky and very fortunate. Last time, it was another thing. I tried to save ground, and unfortunately I was completely stopped at the three-eighths pole. He lost his momentum and came back again, but it was too late.”
Gunnevera’s victory was worth 50 points in the Kentucky Derby qualifying system, putting the Peacock Racing Stable’s star in first place with 64 total points.
“I am the happiest man on earth,” said Peacock Racing’s Solomon Del-Valle through an interpreter. “I thank God, Antonio Sano, and Javier Castellano – all three champions. This is my biggest win. I’ve been around horses since I was five years old. I’ve had as many as 40 horses in Venezuela. Antonio bought this horse for $16,000. Incredible. I love this horse. I get up every day at 4 a.m. to see the horse. I was 100% sure he would win today.”
Gunnevera’s performance rewarded his trainer’s confidence in him leading up to the Fountain of Youth.
“I feel very happy,” Sano said. “The last race, he lost the race because he got bumped. This was different – more horses, different speed. I thought 100 percent that he would win today.”
Sano added that the Grade 1 Florida Derby is Gunnevera’s next scheduled start.
Before fading to seventh at the finish of the Fountain of Youth, Irish War Cry had won all three of his prior starts, including a commanding 3 3/4 length victory in the Holy Bull.
“[ Joel Rosario] felt he was in a good enough spot. I wish he had maybe settled a little more off the pace perhaps, but I don’t want to make excuses,” trainer Graham Motion said. “He looked like he was going pretty nicely. I can’t really say what happened, whether he bounced or not. He ran an awfully big race last time. He looks fine. My instincts and first reaction is that possibly I ran him back too quick. It’s hard to know. He’s done so well between races.”
Gunnevera returned $10.40, $4, and $3.20. Practical Joke brought back $4.60 and $3.40, while Three Rules paid $4.40 to show.
$400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) Quotes
Trainer Antonio Sano (Gunnevera): “[Jockey Javier] Castellano told me, he did it very easy.”
“Castellano never win the Kentucky Derby. For me, it’s the first time, this is the year.”
“I’m very proud for my team and Peacock Racing. I’m very emotional.”
Jockey Javier Castellano (Gunnevera): “There was a lot of speed in the race, and the way it set up was perfect. That’s what I was looking for. He’s the kind of horse where you have to make one run. You can’t chase the pace, because you’re not going to finish. I tried to do that a little bit last time, but I learned my lesson. I was able to learn and move forward and it paid off today.”
Trainer Chad Brown (2nd-place finisher Practical Joke): “I’m happy with my horse. I think I got the race I needed into my horse. Jose [Ortiz] is very happy about the race. He continues to learn a little bit about this horse. He was happy with his effort, as I was. He’s in play now. He has a race under his belt. He should move forward off of it. Everything is on the table [for his next race]. A lot of it is going to depend on how the horse is training, who is running where, and what I’m most comfortable with.”
Jockey Joel Rosario (Irish War Cry): “I had a good trip. He broke very sharp, like he did last time. I was trying to stay away from the horse that was on the lead for a little bit, and he looked very good. He looked very relaxed after that, and when I went to go get him, he went for a little bit and came up a little empty in the end.”
Jockey Luis Saez (Three Rules): “He was trying good, man. When he came to the half-mile pole, I thought we had it easy. But when I started to ask him, he made a little noise. That’s why I think he got tired. If they check and they find something happened with him, he’s going to be a nice horse. He’s a very nice horse. I thought we were going to win.”
Source: Gulfstream Park